The Repat

14 May 2015

Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 16:34:19 ): I rise to speak in general support of the Health Care (Administration) Amendment Bill. The Liberal Party supports the Health Care (Administration) Amendment Bill with some amendments, and further comments about this will no doubt be undertaken at the committee stage.

The arrival of this bill in the house gives me the opportunity to reflect a little more broadly on healthcare issues facing our state, and in particular the impact of that in my own electorate. Transforming Health has the capacity to place our healthcare system on a modern footing, which will enable it to sustainably adapt to the growth and changing demands that are part of our ever-changing healthcare landscape.

However, it is my view and the view of many healthcare workers, clinicians and many experts in the field that there are significant flaws in Transforming Health. Its lack of appropriate community engagement has left it lacking the support of the South Australian community, many in the health industry, and has shaken our community's confidence in public health services.

The issue with Transforming Health most frequently raised with me is the closure of the Repatriation General Hospital at Daw Park. This hospital is a 300-bed facility which employs 1,250 staff. The hospital is viewed with clear-eyed affection by thousands in our community who have first-hand experience of how it has cared for loved ones, supported veterans, got seniors back on their feet after serious illnesses or falls, provided palliative care for people in the twilight of their lives, and simply provided a quality healthcare service to those who needed it.

I recall that recently at one of my regular seniors forums held at Brighton, a local man stood up and told of how the Repat saved his life. He eloquently outlined how he left the Repat in a healthier state than he had been before the illness which resulted in him being there in the first place.

The closure of the Repat is defended as being a necessary step in the transformation of our health system. The government says that this is about modernisation and renewal, not cost cutting. I would have to disagree. The health minister has said in this place that the physical state of some parts of the Repat building are squalid. I draw the house's attention to the fact that any decline has happened under the watch of a four-term Labor government. It is worth noting that much of this facility is deemed to be state-of-the-art, with its rehabilitation facilities world-renowned and the skill of hospital practitioners often lauded nationally and internationally.

The incredible feeling in our community about the proposed closure of the Repat has been demonstrated by the more than 60,000 people who have signed petitions led by the Liberal Party and the many people who have contacted my office and the offices of my colleagues. Meanwhile, 44 RSL sub-branches from across the state have signed an open letter calling on the government to save the hospital.

I commend the efforts of the Hon. Stephen Wade for his endless commitment to the Repat. I have utmost respect for the many veterans who are maintaining the rage with an ongoing vigil on the steps of Parliament House. As the weather continues to be particularly unpleasant, their commitment to the cause is unwavering, and each day that I arrive here for work, they are still there. All power to them.

The recent establishment of the Save the Repat Steering Committee is a further valuable plank in the strategy to prevent the closure of the hospital. The committee brings together veterans, community members and medical professionals and includes:

Augustinus Krikke, a veterans' spokesperson;

Professor Ian Maddocks, former South Australian of the Year and an expert in palliative care and a resident of the electorate of Bright;

community advocate Lyn Such;

former head of Veterans SA, Bill Denny;

Professor Annette Summers; and

the leader of the Liberal Party.

I want to briefly mention the $3 million promotional campaign that has been undertaken by the government to promote Transforming Health. This is using taxpayers' money to spin the government's position and, in my view, is entirely unconscionable. How can a government seriously justify spending this money on propaganda and spin? This has included not only all manner of glossy flyers being churned into letterboxes across the southern suburbs, but also online campaigning, social media advertisements and even telephone canvassing.

The government is abusing the privileges of office by exploiting the Public Service and instructing public servants to undertake what is nothing short of a political campaign. This is not the first time public servants have been used as political fodder, and I am sure it will not be the last. We have seen the More Than Cars campaign and the pensioner concessions campaign used to spray the politics of fear into our communities. What will be next?

I think the state Labor government thinks that the opposition is simply harping on about saving the Repat because it gives us something to do, because it is something to take an anti-stance on and because it is a reason for us to get up in the morning. I fear that in a few short years the Repat site will be filled with trendy high-density apartments and urban infill. This would be an absolute tragedy for our health care in Adelaide's south. With that, I support the bill.

Extracted from Hansard